One question that has come up, and not infrequently, is "What did Jesus mean in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 32, when he said :"But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery"? And I understand the concern. It could sound accusatory and condemning to women. But read in its historical context - I think this verse speaks to an important issue that deserves a deeper look - the subject of women's rights...
Sending out a wake-up call.
To me, Jesus words, directed to his male listeners, introduce a step up - demanding the consideration of women's needs and rights by a culture whose marital/divorce practices were generally one-sided. A man could, and often did, divorce his wife for any reason - perhaps including burning his dinner! Yet a woman in such a situation did not have any built-in protections under civil or religious law. What better way to gently open thought to consider the effect of divorce on women than to evoke the moral sense of the men? According to this new standard, if a husband had no better than a flimsy cause for divorcing, lacking moral imperative, he was participating in the demoralization of his family. In case the husband thought he could easily pass her off to another to support her, as sometimes occurred, Jesus was evoking a moral code that would apply to the "next in line" husband, as well. In all, to me this verse is not a condemnation of divorced women, but a wake-up call to the men of his time to consider well their own actions, and to be certain of the moral impetus for such actions - if not for the sake of their wives, for the sake of their own salvation - a subject that would definitely catch their attention.
Readiness of the listener to get the message.
To me, Jesus' words teach that one shouldn't forget or neglect his moral duty by disregarding the impact on the one being put out of the house. A woman in such a case was not generally accepted back into her family, could not set up house for herself and may have been left with children to raise and no means of support. I believe Jesus illustrates here the moral imperative of the one seemingly holding all the cards: he should consider well the impact of divorce on everyone in the family. That this teaching was directed at the men is seen in the phrases "whosoever shall put away his wife" and "whosoever marrieth her." But with the evolution of civil codes, allowing either party the right to demand a divorce, the imperative for moral self-examination and responsiblity could relate to either sex.
In an article published in the Boston Herald on March 5, 1905, entitled "Prevention and Cure of Divorce", Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, wrote, "Divorce and war should be exterminated according to the Principle of law and gospel, — the maintenance of individual rights, the justice of civil codes, and the power of Truth uplifting the motives of men." (reprinted in First Church of Christ, Scientist and Miscellany, by Eddy, page 268) Seen in its historical context, as Moses' law prepared the mental and moral landscape for Jesus' gospel, we might look at Jesus' words in this verse from Matthew as uplifting the motives of men by opening the door a smidge to the consideration of the impact of divorce on women AND men, and the need for justice.
Might Jesus' words have made some men step back and look before leaping out of their marriages? Without a doubt, more than a few. Was he perhaps laying a foundation for progress, from which could proceed - at the very least, more equitable divorce laws, - and at the very best, the healing of marriages? I believe so.
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